The False Recession

So here we are in 1999 and the animation community is greeted with a fresh, new, massive wave of layoffs. What do some of the authorities in the industry have to say about what is going?

Steve Hullett, the Business Representative of the Union says, to quote his statement from the January, 1999 issue of The Pegboard, "...never underestimate the desire of executives to reinvent the wheel. This always creates tough times for employees down in the trenches."

Mr. Hullett also offers the following assessment. "Decisions to cut staff in feature animation were made months ago, in reaction to expanding budgets and shrinking stock prices." He also states that cable networks "voraciously swallow new animated product, but don't want to pay a lot for it. So some companies now lay off valued employees the instant there is any down time."

Unfortunately for us, the "valued employees" always seem to be animation artists.

The situation that we therefore appear to have as a community, is a return to the system that animation artists had to endure many years ago. That is, the seasonal dumping of talent. The difference now being that animation production is not necessarily seasonal anymore. Animation is in production all year long. The expansion of the industry has been vast, and the catalyst has been the incredible creative talent that has been the driving the boom all along.

So what happens to those employed in animation management? Are they affected by downturns? Are they dumped during downtime? The answer is obvious to anyone who has worked in the American animation industry for any length of time.

Of course not. Nothing happens to them. They go on and on like the energizer bunny.

Most major union studios are not hiring animation talent at the moment, yet they keep a fully staffed recruiting department on payroll. Why?

Another major studio occupies a building that can house, I've been told, 300 to 350 artists. They have approximately 19 artists on staff and it appears that plans are in the works to lay off even more. Yet, they have a management team in place that outnumbers the artists on staff. Why?

DIC Animation, the precursor of the animation production system that all other television studios have fashioned themselves after, have almost no artists on staff. They have plenty of managers, but no artists. And they continue to produce animation.

This is silly. Why do we, as the immense, productive community that we are, have to put up with this? Why are the animation artists continually singled out when any kind of downturn occurs? Where is the logic behind this?

If the product that we produce is red hot, then why are so many artists suffering through unemployment? Where's the recession?

The truth is, there is no recession. Whatever downturn is occurring in our industry is due entirely to the decisions made by the executives who control this industry. Who's fault is it when millions and millions of dollars are squandered on a series that can't meet it's deadline? According to Tom Sito, the President of the Union, as quoted from the January 13, 1999 issue of the Los Angeles Times, "...the problem with a lot of the large-budget features is that they suffer from poor strategic decisions." He states that he knows of projects that have spent $30 million before the artists even started on them.

So what happens to these strategic managers? What happens to the non-creative administrative entity that consumes all of these valuable production resources? What happens to them when they screw up?

Charles Zembillas © 1999
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